Saturday, February 28, 2015

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe

Welcome back to a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I'm going to be providing a handy guide to a few choice movies currently playing in theatres as well as several films newly released on DVD. I invite you to add in your thoughts on any films I haven’t seen in the comments below. Understandably, some weeks will have considerably fewer releases to address than others.

Now Playing in Theatres

Bluebird (mixed bag): This quiet drama set in a small Maine town follows a bus driver who discovers a child unconscious on her bus one morning and the effects it has on her family and his. It’s a worthwhile premise that doesn’t quite catch fire in its execution. Now playing at Cinema Village. Read my review from yesterday.

Deli Man (highly recommended): Who wouldn’t salivate at the idea of a documentary about the history of Jewish deli in America? Its primary subject, the owner of a deli in Houston, is extremely entertaining, and the mix of anecdotes, cultural quirks, and celebrity interviews with plenty of food thrown in is a true delight. Now playing at Lincoln Plaza and, hilariously, all over Florida. Read my review from yesterday.

’71 (highly recommended): I can’t remember the time I saw something as intense as my final film screened at Sundance this year, which is a feverish account of one tempestuous, fateful night in Ireland for a British soldier separated from anything familiar or safe. Jack O’Connell, who is a true breakout, delivers yet another strong performance in this nonstop thriller. Now playing at AMC Lincoln Square and the Angelika. Read my review from Sundance.

Wild Tales (highly recommended): I already raved in a standalone post last Friday about how much I loved this Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee from Argentina when I saw it at Sundance. Its clever format is matched by impossibly entertaining stories that transition effortlessly between drama and comedy. The only true recommendation is to see it with an audience so that you can share in the experience. Now playing at Lincoln Plaza and Landmark Sunshine. Read my review from Sundance last year.

New to DVD

Big Hero 6 (highly recommended): This newly minted Oscar winner for Best Animated Feature is an extremely enjoyable, wondrously hi-tech vision of an imagined amalgam of Tokyo and San Francisco where heroes get their day and kindness wins out above all. A real adventure with heart.

Birdman (highly recommended): This film, which I saw at the New York Film Festival and won Best Picture last week, is a spectacular tale of an aging actor staging his comeback portrayed by an aging actor staging his comeback. Michael Keaton leads an incredible cast with no weak links in a marvelously inventive and engaging film.

The Homesman (anti-recommended): Tommy Lee Jones’ second time behind the camera is about as bleak and uninviting as his first, “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.” If watching his disgruntled drifter and Hilary Swank’s buttoned-up Midwesterner transport three crazy women across territorial lines sounds appealing, go ahead and check this one out.

Life Itself (highly recommended): This documentary seemed worthwhile enough to me to rank as the fifth film of my second-ever quintuple feature, and fortunately, it delivered. This retrospective of Roger Ebert’s life and his enthusiasm for movies is a resounding and entertaining endorsement of the whole concept of cinema.

Whiplash (recommended): Miles Teller and Oscar winner J.K. Simmons are both terrific in this hit from the Sundance Film Festival and the New York Film Festival as a determined drumming student and his tyrannical instructor, respectively.

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

In Bloom (mixed bag): This 1990s-set drama, which was Georgia’s official Oscar submission for Best Foreign Film last year, has strong characters but not an effectively engaging story to match them.

White Bird in a Blizzard (recommended): Shailene Woodley is the real reason to see this occasionally fascinating, sometimes too peculiar film that has an interesting central premise but gets distracted when it heads in a less worthwhile overarching direction.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Movie with Abe: Deli Man

Deli Man
Directed by Erik Anjou
Released February 27, 2015

Food movies belong to a special category, seasoning their characters, plot development, and whatever else with a certain appetizing style. The sight of cooked or plated food is irresistible, even if the particular dish doesn’t appeal, and descriptions of baking and recipes are mouth-watering. “Deli Man,” a new film that “begins serving around the country” today, adds to the menu by documenting the history of the Jewish deli in America, giving viewers the perfect side to its delicious main course.

New York is an obvious center for this film, which actually focuses much of its time on a deli located elsewhere, in Houston, in fact. Delicatessen operator Ziggy Gruber is the film’s primary subject, an example of how a New York born and raised Jew took what he grew up learning about cooking and the deli business and transplanted it to an entirely new locale, where a welcoming audience ate it up and continues to do so. Ziggy details his connection to his culture and his wish to preserve certain elements of it, all the while stressing about his daily business and unable to think of anything but its welfare.

The fast-moving, unsinkable Ziggy is complemented well by calmer interviews with the owners of notable delis around the country, including Nate and Al’s and 2nd Avenue Deli. Context is given to the evolution of the deli from a strictly kosher institution into more flexible menus and even some controversially creative shops who defy their ancestral heritage in hopes of meeting ever-changing consumer demand. Well-known personalities such as Larry King, Jerry Stiller, and Fyvush Finkel contribute humorous sentiments and anecdotes about their lifelong attachments to and experiences with delis.

In all, this documentary is a delight, proving to be educational in its chronicling of the way in which deli as a cuisine found its way to America and how it has changed over the past century, with thousands of delis in New York now reduced dramatically to a much more quantifiable number. Ziggy may not be in a traditional place, but his work ethic and spirit of his restaurant definitely exemplify a life lived purely in service to the customer. As one interviewee puts in, you can divorce the deli or you can divorce your wife: it’s a business that demands all of you. Fortunately, it’s also a perfectly delicious and delectable topic for a documentary to be enjoyed by all, even those who like cheese on their roast beef or pastrami.


Movie with Abe: Bluebird

Directed by Lance Edmands
Released February 27, 2015

Small towns and deserted landscapes are practically made for stories about unnerving, quietly disturbing events. Snow has a particular power to mask the darkness of any given development, and it did so in last year’s “Whitewash” and countless films before it. Now, it helps to blanket the disconcerting plot of “Bluebird,” which looks at the aftermath of a young boy found barely still alive aboard a school bus one morning and how his state affects his own family and the bus driver who found him.

“Bluebird” is a relatively silent film, one that finds its characters only speaking when they absolutely need to, emphasizing its stark, white surroundings as evidence that not much usually happens in its chosen locale. Lesley (Amy Morton) is a bus driver who goes to work every day not expecting much in the way of surprises, and she lives a simple and unassuming life. Discovering one of her passengers after failing to notice him the afternoon before is a devastating find that shatters her sense of tranquility and by extension her logging town’s feeling of safety and peace, immune to the loud rush of the world around it but not to its share of heartbreak.

There are no emotive characters in “Bluebird,” since everyone keeps their feelings bottled up and refuses to let things shake them. Lesley rarely verbalizes how she is feeling, hopeless even to offer a defense of her actions. Her husband Richard (John Slattery) has trouble externalizing his thoughts, spending most of his day working in a solitary environment without much human contact. Only Marla (Louisa Krause), the mother of the boy, does anything to deal with her frustrations, although her concerns seem to have little to do with the wellbeing of her child.

This film feels like an entirely familiar experience, and not one that begs to be lived again. There is a chilling sensation that never quite manages to materialize and take hold of the film, leaving it as an unengaging meditation on loss, guilt, and responsibility. Morton and Slattery are both good at portraying introspected people, but that doesn’t make their characters dynamic or accessible. Krause, familiar from “Toe to Toe” and “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” among others, is good, and always dependable TV faces Margo Martindale and Adam Driver contribute in small roles in the supporting cast. For a film about the permanence of one moment, however, this film contains no such scenes and fails to be impactful or memorable.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

AFT Awards: Best Original Song

This is the twelfth category of the 8th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions:
Coming Up Roses (Begin Again), Stay with You (Rudderless)

Immortals (Big Hero 6)
No Fate Awaits Me (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby)
I Love You Too Much (The Book of Life)
The Apology Song (The Book of Life)
Like a Fool (Begin Again)

The winner:
Glory (Selma) was the perfect coda for its film, stylishly sending a message of peace and liberty summarizing those who stand up for those who cannot defend themselves.

Other nominees:
Everything is Awesome (The Lego Movie)
Opportunity (Annie)
Sing Along (Rudderless)
Lost Stars (Begin Again)

AFT Awards: Best Original Score

This is the eleventh category of the 8th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Gone Girl, The Imitation Game, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, The Theory of Everything

The winner:
Interstellar (Hans Zimmer) was magnificent and glorious, signaling the great galactic drama contained within it with a deeply intense theme.

Other nominees:
The Congress (Max Richter)
Birdman (Antonio Sanchez)
Cold in July (Jeff Grace)
A Most Violent Year (Alex Ebert)

AFT Awards: Best Film Editing

This is the tenth category of the 8th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

A Most Violent Year, Blind, Boyhood, Chinese Puzzle, Coherence, Enemy, Joe, Land Ho, Pride, Rocks in My Pockets, Rudderless, Selma, Starred Up, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Viva la Liberta, Wild, Zero Motivation

The winner:
Interstellar (Lee Smith) wove together a long and ambitious story and made its every moment feel utterly relevant and gripping.

Other nominees:
Birdman (Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione)
Cold in July (John Paul Horstmann and Jim Mickle)
Young Ones (Matt Mayer)
Hellion (Alan Canant)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

AFT Awards: Best Costume Design

This is the ninth category of the 8th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Inherent Vice, Into the Woods, Selma, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Unbroken

The winner:
Guardians of the Galaxy (Alexandra Byrne) dressed its characters and creatures in decorative garb that fittingly defined its signature setting and style.

Other nominees:
Young Ones (Diana Cilliers)
A Most Violent Year (Kasia Walicka-Maimone)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Milena Canonero)
Birdman (Albert Wolsky)

AFT Awards: Best Art Direction

This is the eighth category of the 8th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them and drawn from a pool of approximately 156 films. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Into the Woods, Selma, Snowpiercer, The Theory of Everything, Unbroken

The winner:
Interstellar (Nathan Crowley, Kendelle Elliott , Gary Fettis, Eggert Ketilsson , David F. Klassen , Gary Kosko, Josh Lusby, Eric Sundahl, Dean Wolcott) crafted a stunning, marvelous universe fitting of its name, simultaneously infinite and contained at the same time.

Other nominees:
A Most Violent Year (Melanie J. Baker, John P. Goldsmith, and Doug Huszti)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Stephan Gessler, Anna Pinnock, Adam Stockhausen, Gerald Sullivan, Steve Summersgill)
Birdman (George DeTitta Jr., Stephen H. Carter, Kevin Thompson)
Young Ones (Brian Glaser, Sharon Lomofsky, and Emilia Roux)

AFT Awards: Best Cinematography

This is the seventh category of the 8th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them and drawn from a pool of approximately 156 films. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Blind, Boyhood, Hellion, Interstellar, Selma, Snowpiercer, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, The Double, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything , Unbroken, Wild, Young Ones

The winner:
A Most Violent Year (Bradford Young) was stark, iconic, and emblematic of a time made more distant by the lens of the camera.

Other nominees:
Cold in July (Ryan Samul)
Calvary (Larry Smith)
Birdman (Emmanuel Lubezki)
Enemy (Nicolas Bolduc)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

AFT Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay

This is the sixth category of the 8th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order):
Kill the Messenger, Still Alice

The Theory of Everything
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Human Capital
Mr. Peabody and Sherman

The winner:
Cold in July (Nick Damici and Jim Mickle) was an extremely dark story that started out in one place and ended up somewhere entirely different, gripping and enthralling the whole way through.

Other nominees:
Viva la Liberta (Roberto Ando and Angelo Pasquini)
Wild (Nick Hornby)
Enemy (Javier Gullon)
Joe (Gary Hawkins)

AFT Awards: Best Original Screenplay

This is the fifth category of the 8th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order):
A Coffee in Berlin, Appropriate Behavior, Begin Again, Blind, Boyhood, Brides, Calvary, 52 Tuesdays, Five Star, Frank, Gloria, Happy Christmas, Hellion, Infinitely Polar Bear, Interstellar, Land Ho, Le Week-End, Life Partners, Metro Manila, One Chance, Pride, Rudderless, Selma, Song One, St. Vincent, Starred Up, Tasting Menu, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, The Grand Seduction, The Lego Movie, The Little Bedroom, The Way He Looks, Young Ones

Chinese Puzzle
Manhattan Romance
Zero Motivation

The winner:
Listen Up Philip (Alex Ross Perry) was a terrific story about those who write stories, brimming with intellectual wit and abundant self-indulgence on the part of its characters.

Other nominees:
Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., Armando Bo) Frequencies (Darren Paul Fisher) Forev (Molly Green and James Leffler) A Most Violent Year (J.C. Chandor)

AFT Awards: Best Actress in a Supporting Role

This is the fourth category of the 8th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them and drawn from a pool of approximately 156 films. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions:
Alexandra Roach (One Chance), Amanda Bauer (Forev), Amy Ryan (Birdman), Andrea Riseborough (Birdman), Ashley Aufderheide (Infinitely Polar Bear), Carrie Coon (Gone Girl), Cécile De France (Chinese Puzzle), Elle Fanning (Young Ones), Friedrike Kempter (A Coffee in Berlin), Gaby Hoffmann (Manhattan Romance), Georgina Minter-Brown (Frequencies), Hailee Steinfeld (Begin Again), Imogene Wolodarsky (Infinitely Polar Bear), Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year), Jessica Chastain (Interstellar), Joey King (Wish I Was Here), Katherine Waterston (Inherent Vice), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Kelly Reilly (Chinese Puzzle), Kelly Thornton (Life's a Breeze), Kristen Stewart (Still Alice), Liane Balaban (The Grand Seduction), Lorelei Linklater (Boyhood), Marta Torné (Tasting Menu), Mary Steenburgen (Song One), Mélanie Laurent (Enemy), Melanie Lynskey (Happy Christmas), Melissa McCarthy (St. Vincent), Mia Wasikowska (The Double), Naomi Watts (St. Vincent), Orla O'Rourke (Calvary), Sandrine Holt (Chinese Puzzle), Sarah Gadon (Enemy), Valeria Tedeschi (Viva la Liberta), Vera Vitali (Blind), Zoe Saldana (Infinitely Polar Bear)

Krysten Ritter (Listen Up Philip)
Stephanie Ellis (The Sleepwalker)
Imelda Staunton (Pride)
Valeria Tedeschi (Human Capital)
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

The winner:
Emma Stone (Birdman) managed to break through into a serious adult role as the daughter of an actor struggling to get her life back together, eternally sardonic and responding to the wealth of drama going on around her.

Other nominees:
Caitlin FitzGerald (Manhattan Romance) followed up her “Masters of Sex” role with an equally forward-thinking film about sex and relationships, and her optimism and open-minded approach to romance was absolutely terrific. Naomi Watts (Birdman) is skilled at playing an actress, and her portrait of a big star outwardly confident but inwardly frightened to launch her career was enormously watchable. Mackenzie Foy (Interstellar) was the standout of a film starring several Oscar winners, demonstrating determination and a love for the unknown as a young girl with her eye on the future. Kerry Condon (Dom Hemingway) was sweet and lovely as always as the one bright spot of this blunt and grotesque film filled with characters worthy of existing in its universe.

Monday, February 23, 2015

AFT Awards: Best Actor in a Supporting Role

This is the third category of the 8th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them and drawn from a pool of approximately 156 films. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions:
Aaron Paul (Hellion), Andrew Scott (Pride), Ben Mendelsohn (Starred Up), Bill Nighy (Pride), Chris O'Dowd (Calvary), Colm Meaney (Alan Partridge), Deke Garner (Hellion), Dominic West (Pride), Dylan Llewellyn (Frequencies), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), Fabio Audi (The Way He Looks), Gordon Pinsent (The Grand Seduction), Henrik Rafaelsen (Blind), Jaeden Lieberher (St. Vincent), James Corden (Begin Again), Jeff Goldblum (Le Week-End), Joe Swanberg (Happy Christmas), Johnny Flynn (Song One), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Young Ones), Laurence Fishburne (Rudderless), Mackenzie Crook (One Chance), Marc Hosemann (A Coffee in Berlin), Marius Kolbenstvedt (Blind), Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher), Paddy Considine (Pride), Richard E. Grant (Dom Hemingway), Sam Shepard (Cold in July), Scoot McNairy (Frank), Zach Galifianakis (Birdman)

Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice)
Sam Rockwell (Laggies)
Nicholas Hoult (Young Ones)
Demian Bichir (Dom Hemingway)
Anton Yelchin (Rudderless)

The winner:
Edward Norton (Birdman) was electric, maniacal, focused, and brilliant, as an actor well aware of his audience and not keen to merely accept his role for what it is, intensifying an already fantastic and layered film with his nuanced performance.

Other nominees:
Don Johnson (Cold in July) burst onto the scene with such a vigor and energy that contrasted the film’s darkness and somehow managed to be one of its most magnetic parts. J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) took pieces of the smaller parts from throughout his career to craft one truly formidable and cruel instructor intent on making his students suffer for failing to achieve perfection. Tye Sheridan (Joe) handed in a fine, mature performance just as strong as his big debut in “Mud” last year, full of just as much hope and wonder but more committed to hard work and the reality of his situation. Jonathan Pryce (Listen Up Philip) brilliantly embodied a writer obsessed with his own intellect, a suitable mentor for the similarly-minded Philip and the source of many fantastic lines.

AFT Awards: Best Actress in a Leading Role

This is the second category of the 8th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them and drawn from a pool of approximately 156 films. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions:
Analeigh Tipton (Two Night Stand), Anne Hathaway (Interstellar), Anne Hathaway (Song One), Audrey Tautou (Chinese Puzzle), Cheng Pei Pei (Lilting), Claudia Bassols (Tasting Menu), Dana Ivgy (Zero Motivation), Del Herbert-Jane (52 Tuesdays), Desiree Akhavan (Appropriate Behavior), Eleanor Wyld (Frequencies), Ellen Dorrit Petersen (Blind), Emily Baldoni (Coherence), Emily Blunt (Into the Woods), Florence Loiret Caille (The Little Bedroom), Jenny Slate (Obvious Child), Katherine Waterston (Manhattan Romance), Keira Knightley (Begin Again), Leighton Meester (Life Partners), Lindsay Duncan (Le Week-End), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Frank), Mari Kitia (Brides), Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night), Meredith Hagner (Hits), Meron Getnet (Difret), Nelly Tagar (Zero Motivation), Quvenzhane Wallis (Annie), Tess Amorim (The Way He Looks), Tilda Cobham-Hervey (52 Tuesdays), Tizita Hagere (Difret)

Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Noel Wells (Forev)
Anna Kendrick (Happy Christmas)
Shailene Woodley (White Bird in a Blizzard)
Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)

The winner:
Reese Witherspoon (Wild) delivered her best performance in years, stripping away ever part of her cutesy personality that has made her so familiar and loveable and leaving a hardened but equally compelling figure in her place.

Other nominees:
Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) had the tough job of acting opposite someone with a showier role and still managed to deliver a heartfelt and emotional depiction of a wife eternally dedicated to her husband. Jessica Chastain (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby) kept her character from truly disappearing, saying a great deal without uttering many words and wearing heartbreak all over her face. Elisabeth Moss (Listen Up Philip) exhibited such true creativity and individuality next to someone who couldn’t hope to acknowledge how smart she really was. Paulina Garcia (Gloria) was full of life and determination as a woman navigating love and other challenges of getting older.

AFT Awards: Best Actor in a Leading Role

This is the first category of the 8th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them and drawn from a pool of approximately 156 films. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions:
Ben Schnetzer (Pride), Ben Wishaw (Lilting), Bill Murray (St. Vincent), Billy Crudup (Rudderless), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Brendan Gleeson (The Grand Seduction), Channing Tatum (Foxcatcher), Daniel Fraser (Frequencies), David Oyelowo (Selma), Domnhall Gleeson (Frank), Ellar Coltrane (Boyhood), Gael Garcia Bernal (Rosewater), Ghilherme Lobo (The Way He Looks), Jack O'Connell (Starred Up), Jack O'Connell (Unbroken), Jake Gyllenhaal (Enemy), Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Jake Macapagal (Metro Manila), James Corden (One Chance), James McAvoy (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby), Jan Cornet (Tasting Menu), Jeremy Renner (Kill the Messenger), Jesse Eisenberg (The Double), Jim Broadbent (Le Week-End), Josh Wiggins (Hellion), Jude Law (Dom Hemingway), Logan Lerman (Fury), Mark Ruffalo (Begin Again), Mark Ruffalo (Infinitely Polar Bear), Matt Mider (Forev), Matt Walsh (Hits), Matthew McConaughey (Interstellar), Michael C. Hall (Cold in July), Michael Shannon (Young Ones), Michel Bouqet (The Little Bedroom), Miles Teller (Two Night Stand), Miles Teller (Whiplash), Paul Eenhoorn (Land Ho), Peyman Moaadi (Camp X-Ray), Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Romain Duris (Chinese Puzzle), Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), Steve Coogan (Alan Partridge), Taylor Kitsch (The Grand Seduction), Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner), Tom O'Brien (Manhattan Romance), Tom Schilling (A Coffee in Berlin)

Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)
Tom Hardy (Locke)
Toni Servilla (Viva la Liberta)
Michael Fassbender (Frank)
Michael Keaton (Birdman)

The winner:
Earl Lynn Nelson (Land Ho) was consistently hilarious and at ease playing an older man on vacation with no inhibitions, an impressive feat for the non-actor doctor from Kentucky.

Other nominees:
Oscar Isaac (A Most Violent Year) inhabited his role with an intensity that demonstrated his sincere conviction and sense that what he was doing was right, coupled with an unbreakable determination, an unusual departure for a talented actor used to playing less confident parts. Nicolas Cage (Joe) got serious for his first solid performance in years, one filled with rage and a gritty acceptance of the way the world works. Jason Schwartzman (Listen Up Philip) was just the right person to play a self-involved writer who couldn’t be bothered with the unimportance of those around him and not entirely relevant to his priorities. Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) was simply superb as a brilliant mathematician well aware of his own abilities and constantly striving to complete his defining achievement.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Your Guide to the Oscars

Movies with Abe presents your guide to tonight's Oscars. Click on each category heading for detailed analysis of all nominees in every category. Below please find my final predictions for the winners.

Last year, I was thrilled to come closer than ever before to having seen every single one of the nominees, and this year I did even better, whittling down that statistic from ten to four, two of which are Best Original Song nominees so shouldn’t really count. I doubt very much that “Tangerines” will triumph in the Best Foreign Film race or that “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” will be the first film in its trilogy to take home an Oscar. With that out of the way, I think I’m in a good position to predict the winners, though I do have to be careful about rooting for some of the films I liked better – “Interstellar” – over others that I think are rewarding a director and his technical collaborators for previous better works – “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Moore, Simmons, and Arquette have their races locked up, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Michael Keaton beat Eddie Redmayne, though I think history sides with the transformative performance by a younger nominee rather than a comeback turn by one who has never been recognized. It’s the first time since 2010 that we’ve have a real duel for Best Picture, and I’m camping out with “Birdman,” which with the Independent Spirit Award last night for Best Picture and conceded Best Director to its number one competition, “Boyhood.” Could we see a surprise upset? Yes, and while many think it would be “American Sniper,” I’d love for it to be “Selma,” since those who actually saw the film and didn’t just vote to nominate it in only two categories would be enthusiastically endorsing it. I think voters will be able to choose and that “Birdman” is far enough ahead, but I’m not positive. The one win, above anything else, that I’m hoping for is “Wild Tales” to take the Best Foreign Film trophy. I’d also be very happy if “The Salt of the Earth” bested “Citizenfour,” but that’s hardly as crucial.

Let’s hope, as always for a fun show! I’m currently on a train back to New York City from Maryland and seem to be undeterred thus far from the snow both areas got yesterday, so I look forward to being back in plenty of time to sit down for the start of the show.

I’ll also be live-tweeting, so follow @movieswithabe during the show and let me know how you’re enjoying it! Leave your comments on these final predictions below! Click on category headings for analysis and detailed predictions.


Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman)

Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

Julianna Moore (Still Alice)

J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)


The Imitation Game


Into the Woods

American Sniper

The Theory of Everything







How to Train Your Dragon 2


Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1

The Dam Keeper

Boogaloo and Graham

Predicted totals:
Interstellar – 4
Birdman – 3
The Theory of Everything - 2
American Sniper – 1
Boyhood - 1
Foxcatcher – 1
The Imitation Game – 1
Into the Woods – 1
Selma – 1
Still Alice – 1
Unbroken – 1
Whiplash – 1

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Picture

The competition: American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash

Previous winners: 12 Years a Slave, Argo, The Artist, The King’s Speech, The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire, No Country for Old Men
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: “Birdman” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” each have nine nominations. “The Imitation Game” has eight, “American Sniper” and “Boyhood” have six, “The Theory of Everything” and “Whiplash” have five, and “Selma” has just two. Considered crucial to this race are corresponding Best Director and Best Film Editing nominations – only “Boyhood,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” and “The Imitation Game” have both. “Birdman” is recognized for directing and “American Sniper” and “Whiplash” are nominated for editing. “Boyhood” started off the race with a Golden Globe Best Picture win, but, since then, “Birdman” has won the PGA, DGA, and SAG. Historically, the film that has pulled ahead later tends to win, like in 2009 with “The Hurt Locker” over “Avatar” and in 2004 with “Million Dollar Baby” over “The Aviator.”

Who should win: “Birdman” is far and away my favorite of this crowd, and my second choice would actually be “The Theory of Everything.”
Who will win: We have what may be considered a dead heat this year, and it’s very possible that a surprise winner could emerge. “Boyhood” was the early frontrunner, and now it seems like Birdman will overtake it. If they split the vote, who’s next? I’d actually like to predict a jaw-dropping victory for “Selma” if it’s not one of those two, but I’ll stick with “Birdman.” The safe third choice is “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” but I don’t see that being crowned Best Picture. We’ll have to see how it goes, because even if one film is leading throughout the night, it’s hard to know who will actually take home the Best Picture award, making this the first real competition in a few years.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe (Oscar Edition)

Welcome to a very special edition of a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. I was beyond excited to realize that I managed to see almost all of the nominees in every category this year for the Oscars. I missed a grand total of four, though I really wouldn’t count “Beyond the Lights” and “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me,” which are nominated for Best Song. I opted not to see “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” since I have no desire to do so and it’s nominated only for Best Sound Editing. The remaining missing nominee is “Tangerines,” a Best Foreign Film contender not yet released in the United States. I haven’t placed the shorts below, but read my Oscar predictions for Best Animated Short, Best Live Action Short, and Best Documentary Short to see what to see. Enjoy recommendations for all of the films below, with an asterisk denoting that a film is available either on DVD or to stream. Happy watching, and check back tomorrow for final Oscar predictions!

Wild Tales

Highly Recommended
Big Hero 6
Song of the Sea
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya*
The Theory of Everything

American Sniper
Begin Again*
The Boxtrolls*
Captain America: The Winter Soldier*
Finding Vivian Maier*
The Grand Budapest Hotel*
How to Train Your Dragon 2*
The Imitation Game
Into the Woods
Last Days in Vietnam*
The Lego Movie*
Mr. Turner
The Salt of the Earth (opening March 27th)
Still Alice
Two Days, One Night
X-Men: Days of Future Past*

Mixed Bag/Overrated
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes*
Gone Girl*
Guardians of the Galaxy*
Inherent Vice
The Judge*

Did Not See
Beyond the Lights
Glen Campbell I’ll Be Me
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Friday, February 20, 2015

Sundance & Oscar with Abe: Wild Tales

What better timing than two days before the Oscars to release one of the best films nominated this year? I saw Argentina’s “Wild Tales,” which I really hope wins the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, at Sundance last month and it loved it. It’s a fantastic compilation of vignettes about people getting angry that’s just unlike anything else. Read my review over at Shockya, and go see the film at Landmark Sunshine or Lincoln Plaza!

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Visual Effects

The competition: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist), Guardians of the Galaxy (Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould), Interstellar (Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott R. Fisher), X-Men: Days of Future Past (Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer)

Previous winners: Gravity, Life of Pi, Hugo, Inception, Avatar, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Golden Compass
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: Letteri is the most honored artist in this category, with four Oscar wins, most recently for “Avatar.” Franklin and Lockley won for their last nominated collaboration with Christopher Nolan, “Inception.” Earl, Grill, and Sudick have been nominated before for various projects. Letteri, Lemmon, and Barrett were all nominated for the last Apes film, which didn’t win. Aithadi and Stammers have also each been nominated once before. In terms of franchises, this is the first nomination for Captain America and X-Men, though from the former’s larger universe, “Iron Man,” “Iron Man 2,” and “The Avengers” were all nominated, but none of them won.

Who should win: “Guardians of the Galaxy” is an ambitious presentation and “X-Men: Days of Future Past” had a lot of great action scenes. I wasn’t overly enthralled by the effects in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” or “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” Nothing compares, however, to the vast universe created in “Interstellar.” I’m picturing those humongous waves in particular.
Who will win: I’m nervous, but I still think Interstellar can win.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Animated Feature

The competition: Big Hero 6, The Boxtrolls, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Song of the Sea, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Previous winners: Frozen, Brave, Rango, Toy Story 3, Up, Wall-E, Ratatouille, Happy Feet, Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Spirited Away, Shrek
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: This category has existed since 2001. Pixar isn’t nominated this year, so forget all the statistics about them. Since the first year of this category, there has been a bona fide frontrunner, and the only time it didn’t win was in 2006, when “Cars” haters chose “Happy Feet” instead. There are a few returning filmmakers nominated this year. Williams previously contended for “Bolt,” DeBlois was nominated for the first “How to Train Your Dragon,” and Tomm Moore was nominated for “The Secret of Kells.” In studio terms, Disney and Studio Ghibli – this year represented by “Big Hero 6” and “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” respectively – have each won once. DreamWorks, recognized this year for “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” has won twice. That sequel won both the Golden Globe and the top Annie Award.
Who should win: I remember coming out of “Song of the Sea” with very positive feelings towards it, and I also really liked “Big Hero 6.” I just watched “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” which was very good. Though “How to Train Your Dragon 2” was an improvement on the overrated original, it’s not the best in this race, nor is “The Boxtrolls.”
Who will win: There’s no slam drunk frontrunner this year. How to Train Your Dragon 2 seems like the safest bet, though it’s possible that “Big Hero 6” could score. I’d love it if either the Irish or Japanese film came out ahead, but I highly doubt that.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Movie with Abe: X-Men: Days of Future Past

X-Men: Days of Future Past
Directed by Bryan Singer
Released May 23, 2014

Before I was into movies in the way I am now, I was a big fan of comic books. The characters I followed most consistently and closely were the X-Men, and the original films in the series came out at just the right time. Though the first film diverged in a number of ways from the comic book, I enjoyed it, and I liked the second as well. I wasn’t as fond of the third or of the recent reboot that took the story back in time. The latest film, “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” is considered a sequel to both, and while it’s an improvement on both, there’s still a bit too much going on.

This film begins in a devastated future where mutant-hunting sentinels scour the Earth for the last remaining mutants. Kitty Pryde, Storm, Professor X, Magneto, and Wolverine are a few of the survivors who fight to stay alive. A combination of powers and technology enables them to send someone back in time to prevent a crucial event that led to all that happened to create this future, and Wolverine, with his healing powers, is the obvious choice to make this tremendous journey. Setting the film in two times means rewriting history as events occurs in both the past and the future.

This plot is jam-packed with action and a bevy of characters, some of whom appear only for a moment yet receive top billing, and it’s all very ambitious. Only despair and regret remain as the precious few fight for survival in the future, while the younger mutants don’t really know who they are just yet. Professor X and Magneto are the two characters who appear in both times, and it’s interesting to see young actors James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender opposite veterans Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen.

This film is nominated for an Oscar for Best Visual Effects, the film X-Men film to earn that honor. There’s no denying the awesomeness of each time some random face morphs into Mystique or when each mutant is shown using his or her powers. The story as a whole never quite feels tight enough, and it’s all just a matter of surviving long enough, or changing the timeline, to make it to the next film. I hope that forthcoming “X-Men: Apocalypse” tackles the Age of Apocalypse, though it’s possible that condensing a major comic book event into one movie may prove just as tough as fitting everything from Days of Future Past into this overloaded film.


Movie with Abe: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Directed by Matt Reeves
Released July 11, 2014

I love franchises as much as the next guy…well, maybe not quite as much. But I could watch every “Star Wars” or “Back to the Future” film over and over again and I sincerely hope that the “Fast and the Furious” series one day gets to be as old as I am now. I’m not always on board, however, and sometimes it just seems like there’s no reason to make another movie. I never saw any of the original “Planet of the Apes” films, and only joined the franchise with its most recent reboot kickoff, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” While that film was better than expected, I fail to see a compelling reason to have made the series’ latest installment.

I sat down to the watch this film strictly because it is one of the Oscar nominees for Best Visual Effects, and I’m coming very close to having seen every single film nominated in every category. This didn’t interest me at all when it was in theatres even though I had positive memories of the 2011 film that restarted the franchise starring James Franco and Andy Serkis as Caesar, disguised as usual with countless effects and able to marvelously embody a nonhuman creature. Why the dawn comes after the rise, I’m not so sure, but let’s start where this film does.

This vision of a dystopian future finds two communities living in San Francisco following the outbreak of an epidemic mutation that caused the decimation of a great portion of the population, something that is recounted through archived news footage cleverly showcasing many recognizable personalities like President Barack Obama in the opening moments of the film. Humans take shelter within what is left of the city, searching desperately for a power source that will allow them to continue to survive. The apes live in the woods, communicating mostly via sign language but also beginning to speak with actual words. It’s not too long before these two groups converge and all hell threatens to break loose.

What ensues is a mess of a movie, one that might be considered a horror film if it was actually supposed to be scary. Instead, tension builds unevenly as Jason Clarke’s Malcolm takes on the role filled by Franco in the first film as the only human interested in coexisting with the apes. Can one forward-thinking human and one very forward-thinking ape save the planet from becoming ruled by apes? It’s doubtful, and this movie doesn’t do much to help you find out. The effects are a feat, yes, but there isn’t much else worthwhile about this film, which isn’t nearly as entertaining as it should be.


Movie with Abe: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

© 2013 Hatake Jimusho – GNDHDDTK

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Directed by Isao Takahata
Released October 17, 2014

In recent years, the Oscar category for Best Animated Feature has demonstrated considerable diversity, no longer content just to recognize successful American productions that also did well at the box office. While that has meant some surprise snubs for some major movies that still deserved a spot, it has allowed for smaller international films to gain recognition and exposure to a worldwide audience. One such film, out on DVD this week, is “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” a charming epic about a young Japanese girl for whom everyone has impossibly big dreams.

The film’s title character first appears as a baby wrapped inside a glowing bamboo shoot, found by the man who will become her adoptive father and taken in as his daughter, even though he and his wife suspect that she is not really theirs to keep. He nicknames her “Princess,” and she quickly earns the moniker “Little Bamboo” due to her tendency to grow at a rapid rate and to learn things at a quicker speed than anyone else possibly could. Since she is thought of as a princess, she cannot avoid that fate, prepared and trained for a royal future.

Being separate from everyone and practicing rituals according to some preordained rules is not something that comes easily to Princess Kaguya. This is not a grand story of a young girl with no parents becoming a royal personality and loving the attention only to eventually realize that she may be lonelier than she thought. The Princess’ loneliness persists, and there is a sense throughout the film that she does not belong in her current state, destined to be returned to whatever supernatural state from which she came. This is a far from a film for all ages since it deals with complex emotions and a underlying sense of things as they are inevitably coming to an end.

This film was originally slated to be released with last year’s Oscar nominee “The Wind Rises,” and the pairing is fitting. This too is a gorgeous extended take on Japanese culture, the outdoors, beauty, and much more. The score by acclaimed composer Joe Hishaishi enhances the film’s feel and effectiveness considerably, adding to the weight and impact of its events. The English voice cast, led by Chloe Grace Moretz, Mary Steenburgen, and James Caan is very strong. This 137-minute experience is one example of what animated films are today, and it’s an enormously compelling one.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Director

The competition: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman), Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher), Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)

Previous winners: Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity), Ang Lee (Life of Pi), Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men)
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: Two of these nominees have been nominated once before in this category: Inarritu in 2006 for “Babel” and Miller in 2005 for “Capote.” Anderson, Inarritu, and Linklater are all also nominated for penning their film’s scripts. “Foxcatcher” is not nominated for Best Picture or Best Film Editing, and “Birdman” is not nominated for Best Film Editing. This award almost always corresponds with the Directors Guild of America winner. In 1995 and 2012, the DGA picks – Ron Howard and Ben Affleck – weren’t nominated for the Oscar, so Mel Gibson and Ang Lee won instead. In 2000, Globe and DGA winner Lee lost to Steven Soderbergh at the Oscars. The only time that the winners of the Globe and the DGA were different and both were nominated at the Oscars was in 2002 when Martin Scorsese won the Globe, Rob Marshall won the DGA, and Roman Polanski won the Oscar. This year, Linklater won the Globe and Inarritu won the Oscar.

Who should win: Inarritu
Who will win: Last year, Alfonso Cuaron was ahead to win Best Director, and did, while “12 Years a Slave” had Best Picture sewn up. This year, it’s “Birdman” versus “Boyhood,” with the former picking up steam after losing the top Globe races to the latter and then cleaning up at DGA, PGA, and SAG. Linklater has the bigger singular achievement in the epic that he created, but I think that Inarritu is going to ride the wave of a film that should appeal distinctly to industry players who see a lot of themselves in the film.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Documentary Short

The nominees:
Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 (B)
This short, the longest in this category at 45 minutes, is an informative look at the country’s only veteran call center in which responders handle calls from those struggling with PTSD and contemplating suicide. It offers an effective and harrowing look at the difficult and important work done by the people who answer the phone.
Joanna (C-)
This film follows a Polish woman suffering from a chronic fatal illness as she spends the little time she has left with her family. It may be insensitive to rate it so poorly, but there is no introduction of any kind and the film presents its conversation without any framing, making for a depressing but far from fulfilling experience.
Our Curse (B)
This one takes the cake for heart-wrenching, spotlighting two parents who bring their infant son home from the hospital and discuss the implications of the disorder he suffers from that requires him to be constantly hooked up to a respirator. Watching these parents see their child in such agony is immensely hard to watch.
The Reaper (D+)
I’m not really sure why this was made into a film. The story of a Mexican slaughterhouse employee nicknamed “The Reaper” doesn’t have much to offer other than the obviously off-putting nature of the work he does. What makes that film-worthy? Nothing.
White Earth (C-)
I’ve always wanted to go to North Dakota just to see it, and this documentary has almost completely negated that desire (I’ll still go at some point, probably to Fargo). Hearing about oil field workers and their neglected children just doesn’t cut it in terms of seeming relevant or interesting.

Previous winners: The Lady in Number 6, Inocente, Saving Face, Strangers No More, Music by Prudence, Smile Pinki, Freeheld, The Blood of Yingzhou District
Who should win: I was not at all impressed with this field. I would pick “Crisis Hotline” over “Our Curse” and really hope the rest don’t win.
Who will win: I think that Crisis Hotline has the edge over “Our Curse,” which I think voters will find too difficult to get through.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Documentary Feature

The competition: Citizenfour, Finding Vivian Maier, Last Days in Vietnam, The Salt of the Earth, Virunga

Previous winners: Twenty Feet from Stardom, Searching for Sugar Man, Undefeated, Inside Job, The Cove, Man on Wire, Taxi to the Dark Side
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: The last two films to win this prize have been about underacknowledged musicians, and there’s nothing like that nominated this year. There are, however, two films about photographers, two more about regional conflicts, and one about a whistleblower. There are two returning nominees this year: Laura Poitras, recognized for “Citizenfour,” was previously nominated in 2006 for “My Country, My Country.” Wim Wenders, who directed “The Salt of the Earth,” was nominated in 1999 for “Buena Vista Social Club” and in 2011 for “Pina.”

Who should win: I was very disappointed by “Citizenfour,” which I had heard so much about before seeing it a while after it came out. I found its subject matter to be very interesting but its documentary style to be uninventive and counterproductive. I watched “Finding Vivian Maier,” “Last Days in Vietnam,” and “Virunga” over the course of a weekend, and while all three were good, none gripped me in the way that they should have. Most of my AFT Award nominees, which will be announced starting next week, contain films from among the fifteen finalists that didn’t get nominated and were much better. Fortunately, one film I did find to be extremely engaging and worthwhile is the fifth nominee, which opens in New York at the end of March. “The Salt of the Earth,” an extraordinary exploration of a photographer and his photography, should definitely be the winner of this bunch.
Who will win: I’m not sure even a better film can take down the juggernaut that is Citizenfour.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Foreign Film

The competition: Ida (Poland), Leviathan (Russia), Tangerines (Estonia), Timbuktu (Mauritania), Wild Tales (Argentina)

Previous winners: The Great Beauty (Italy), Amour (Austria), A Separation (Iran), In a Better World (Denmark), The Secret in their Eyes (Argentina), Departures (Japan), The Counterfeiters (Austria)
My winner: Announcing shortly after the Oscars!
The facts: Argentina has won twice, in 1985 and 2009, out of seven nominations and forty submitted films. Russia has won once, in 1994, out of six nominations and twenty-two submitted films. This is the tenth nomination for Poland out of forty-six submitted films, and this year would mark its first win. Estonia this year earns its first nomination after ten past submissions. This is the first time Mauritania has ever submitted. All filmmakers are new to this race.

Who should win: Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to see “Tangerines,” so I can’t speak to the quality of that film. I was, however, quite underwhelmed by “Ida,” which many people loved. It just didn’t engage me, and I understand that most were enthralled by it. “Timbuktu” also lacked a cinematic quality I had expected, and I think it may more be a statement on the success of a country in its film industry than a reward for a strong film. “Leviathan,” which won the Golden Globe, was decent but depressing, and very long. That’s why I would vote enthusiastically for one of the best films I saw at Sundance this year, “Wild Tales,” which was entertaining, hilarious, and fully worthwhile. If only Oscar voters could agree.
Who will win: I’m crossing my fingers for an upset by “Wild Tales,” since that kind of thing has happened before as frontrunners “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The White Ribbon” were ousted by lesser-seen films. I will, however, still predict Ida to prevail over Globe champ “Leviathan.”

Monday, February 16, 2015

Oscar Documentary: Virunga (Capsule Review)

Directed by Orlando von Einsiedel
Released November 7, 2014

For a while, I couldn’t remember if this film was about gorillas or guerillas. It turns out that it’s the former, and features park rangers in the Congo who protect the gorilla population while the rest of the world tries to mine for oil and destroy natural resources. This nominee for Best Documentary at the Oscars this year begins as a serious chronicle of the Congo and how it developed, transitioning into an affirming story of those who defend the gorillas against the invading oil interests. Learning about the pressure tactics used by malicious forces to sway the people in the area eventually turns to outright violence, making the film seem more like a narrative feature in which tension builds and explodes into drama. French journalist Melanie Gouby is an effective figure to watch as she experiences this third-world conflict firsthand, and interviews with locals demonstrate the mentality of a people living in constant danger. As an exposé designed to bring attention to its subject matter, this film succeeds. As a gripping documentary, it wanes back and forth from truly effective to less enticing. It’s hard not to love the gorillas, of course, and to sympathize with the preservation of a national park. Stream it instantly on Netflix to judge for yourself!


Oscar Documentary: Last Days in Vietnam (Capsule Review)

Last Days in Vietnam
Directed by Rory Kennedy
Released September 5, 2014

Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum and your attitude towards war, it’s feasible to understand that even when a country officially disengages from a war, the conflict is far from over both for the citizens of the area and those personnel still stationed there. “Last Days in Vietnam,” one of the Oscar nominees for Best Documentary this year, tells the lesser-known story of what happened after the United States publicly ended its involvement in the Vietnam War. The final two years of the conflict represent a different era, one marked by fear among Americans remaining in the country about continually escalating violence and threats in an increasingly unstable situation. As usual, interviews with several South Vietnamese figures who managed to make it out to tell their stories are the most powerful aspect of a documentary littered with intriguing tales of efforts to do what seemed right with the orders that were given. In all, they don’t make for an entirely engaging film, but these last days are worth chronicling to a degree. Watch it for yourself on Amazon Instant Video!


Oscar Documentary: Finding Vivian Maier (Capsule Review)

Finding Vivian Maier
Directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel
Released March 28, 2014

Most artists have an interesting story. Sometimes it’s conveyed in their art, and other times it has to do expressly with their personal lives. This past year, “Big Eyes” featured a story that mixed both, as a female painter lost all credit for her work to her selfish husband, who in turn earned a reputation for painting haunting big eyes. Another revelatory exposé comes in the form of this Oscar nominee for Best Documentary which showcases an immensely talented photographer, one whose work was only ever seen by anyone else after she passed away. Vivian Maier’s story begins when co-director John Maloof buys a chest at an auction and ends up with a staggering collection of her photographs. Piecing together her story from interviews with those she nannied for, including Phil Donahue, proves to be quite an enlightening and surprising process. Now, Maier has become a known and respected quantity, and it’s undeniably interesting to see that portrait come together. What the film possesses in determination it often lacks in pacing, but overall the documentary is eye-opening as a portrait of a person and her work. Watch it for yourself on DVD!


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Animated Short

The nominees:
The Bigger Picture (B+)
I found this to be an extremely creative and visually striking short, one that catalogues life, attachment, and death into stark images that morph from one thing into another with fluidity. It’s not optimistic but it is hard to forget.
The Dam Keeper (B+)
It’s not often you find a film with a pig as its hero, and those that do have one – “Babe” and “Charlotte’s Web,” for instance – tend to be very well-received. That’s the case for this gorgeous short about a pig who is teased by all his animal classmates but meets one particularly foxy new friend. It’s somewhat dark but easily loveable.
Feast (B+)
This is the short many people will realize that they’ve seen since it played before “Big Hero 6.” A simple story of a dog who gets fed fewer unhealthy treats when his owner meets a lady friend is effortlessly amusing and enthralling. It’s the least creative in terms of animation, but that shouldn’t be a problem given how likeable it is.
Me and My Moulton (B)
This chronicle of three sisters and their desire to get a bicycle is completely reminiscent of “The Danish Poet,” which won this prize in 2006, and that’s mainly becomes it comes from the same Norwegian-Canadian filmmaker, Torill Kove. This one isn’t quite as whimsical, but Oscar voters clearly like Kove.
A Single Life (B+)
This short is just two minutes, but it’s easily the most enjoyable of this category, with a woman who jumps through different points in her life with a quick touch of her record player. It’s over almost before it begins, and that’s what makes it so delightfully effective.

Previous winners: Mr. Hublot, Paperman, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, The Lost Thing, Logorama, Le Maison en Petits Cubes, Peter and the Wolf
Who should win: These are actually are pretty great, unlike last year. My pick is “The Bigger Picture,” with “A Single Life” as a close second.
Who will win: It’s hard to know, but I think The Dam Keeper is the frontrunner.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Live Action Short

The nominees:
Aya (B+)
This Israeli short about a woman who picks up a passenger at the airport after holding a sign for his driver is a bit strange but extremely entertaining and intoxicating. It’s the longest of the bunch, at nearly 40 minutes, but it’s also the most accessible. It’s fun to see Ulrich Thomsen of “Banshee” opposite Israeli actress Sarah Adler.
Boogaloo and Graham (B+)
You can’t understand a thing they say, but it’s impossible not to like this endearing story of two young brothers who get chicks as pets and then become so attached to their chickens that they want to be vegetarians, but only when it comes to birds. This one is a real crowd-pleaser.
Butter Lamp (C+)
This Tibetan entry features photographers who have full backdrops in front of which they pose large families and other groups of people. Not much happens over the course of fifteen minutes, and it’s hard to find something resembling a plot
Parvaneh (B)
This story of an Afghani immigrant in the Swiss Alps is a film that gradually becomes more engaging and enticing, especially after it introduces a foil to its main character, a rich girl with a decidedly antiestablishment attitude. Watching the friendship of its characters develop is endearing, even if it includes a few peculiar and unexplained moments.
The Phone Call (B)
This short is particularly sad, featuring Sally Hawkins as a suicide hotline operator who answers a call from Jim Broadbent’s despaired widower. It’s a difficult and emotional story, and one that doesn’t add anything cinematic to a powerful plot.

Previous winners: Helium, Cufrew, The Shore, God of Love, The New Tenants, Toyland, The Mozart of Pickpockets, West Bank Story, Six Shooter
Who should win: I would definitely vote for “Aya” or “Boogaloo and Graham.”
Who will win: It could be either Boogaloo and Graham or “Parvaneh.” I think the former is just too irresistible, but the latter could entice voters who want to honor a multicultural story.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Saturday Night Movie Recommendations with Abe (Mega Edition)

Welcome to the inaugural 2015 edition of a weekly feature here at Movies With Abe. To play catch-up, this post will look at new releases in all of 2015 so far. I'm going to be providing a handy guide to a few choice movies currently playing in theatres as well as several films newly released on DVD. I invite you to add in your thoughts on any films I haven’t seen in the comments below. Understandably, some weeks will have considerably fewer releases to address than others.

Now Playing in Theatres

Above and Beyond (highly recommended): This documentary about the birth of the Israeli air force is an extremely enjoyable, inspiring, and fresh look at how one young country was able to defend itself from attacks on old sides with the help of American and other volunteers eager to fight to safeguard Israel. Hearing from the senior citizens who flew the planes is a particular treat. This one is no longer playing in Manhattan but it’s worth the trip out to Kew Gardens or Great Neck, or wherever you are when the film comes to you! Read my review from two weeks ago.

Cake (mixed bag): All the buzz for this film has been about Jennifer Aniston getting snubbed for an Oscar nomination after looking like a pretty good sure thing. Truth be told, she’s the best reason to see the film, delivering a mature and hardened performance that demonstrates considerable range for the actress usually known for comedies. The film isn’t nearly as strong, unfortunately. Currently playing at Quad Cinema. Read my review from a few weeks ago.

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (highly recommended): This Israeli film very deservedly earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Film. The third feature from sibling directors Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz is a staggering and enormously compelling account of one woman’s lengthy battle to earn a religious divorce from her husband. It’s very well-written, balancing humor and devastation terrifically with fantastic performances from all in the cast. This just opened at Lincoln Plaza. Read my review from yesterday.

Hits (mixed bag): There is something truly clever and insightfully hilarious about actor David Cross’ directorial debut, which I saw at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Matt Walsh and Meredith Hagner are great as a father and daughter whose worldview is decidedly skewed in this comedy that diverges a bit too much from any coherent direction. Now playing at the Village East Cinema. Read my review from Sundance last year.

Timbuktu (mixed bag): Mauritania’s first-ever Oscar submission for Best Foreign Film made the cut and earned itself a nomination, and most have reviewed this film with the utmost fervor and praise. It didn’t wow me, presenting what could have been a few interesting stories in a fashion that didn’t do them justice. It’s a fine start for a film industry but nowhere close to one of the best foreign films of the year. Now playing at Lincoln Plaza and Quad Cinema. Read my review from Thursday.

New to DVD

The Book of Life (recommended): This film didn’t ultimately make the cut with Oscar voters despite a Golden Globe nomination and recognition elsewhere, but I found it to be one of the most creative and enjoyable animated experiences of the year, thanks largely to its cultural specificity and a strong construction of its larger-than-life characters. This is not your typical animated film for so many reasons, and it’s definitely worth a look.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (highly recommended): Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy star in this moving, involving story about a couple struggling to get back to a sense of normalcy after their lives are rocked by an unthinkable event. Both performers are incredible, and the film is extremely powerful.

The Drop (anti-recommended): Tom Hardy and the late James Gandolfini star in this grim and relatively pointless adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s latest work which is far from worthy of comparison to his previous efforts, “Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone,” and “Shutter Island.”

Force Majeure (mixed bag): Everyone I’ve spoken to loved this Golden Globe nominee for Best Foreign Film from Sweden, but I couldn’t see what was so great about it (story of the year with a few of the contenders). Setting a family story in a quiet French ski resort helps this film build its plot in an unsuspecting way, but its uncertain genre and uncomfortable conversations aren’t quite as impactful or entertaining as they’re supposed to be.

Gone Girl (mixed bag): Oscar voters resoundingly voiced their disapproval for this film by giving it just one nomination, for star Rosamund Pike, whose performance as Amazing Amy is undeniably great. Yet the film, for all its dark, brooding mystery, doesn’t achieve the effect it’s going for, instead inhabiting a cold and uninviting space that houses this bizarre and off-putting story.

The Judge (mixed bag): This film earned an Oscar nomination for Robert Duvall, and that’s about the only reason to see it, even if he’s delivered many better performances in the past. Robert Downey Jr. plays the same role he always plays with minimal effort, and Duvall stands out in a predictable and uncreative story about the law, father-son relationships, and coming home.

Kill the Messenger (recommended): Jeremy Renner is superb as a journalist set on seeing his story about CIA involvement in cocaine distribution in the United States through in this energizing and strong drama.

Laggies (mixed bag): I wanted to like this dramedy with odd couple Keira Knightley and Chloe Grace Moretz as a twentysomething and a high schooler who inexplicably become friends. It’s that central logic that’s missing here in a peculiar but somewhat entertaining story. The reason to see this, of course, is Sam Rockwell, continuing his domination of comedies with his singular personality.

Life’s a Breeze (mixed bag): This harmless Irish film stars Fionnula Flanagan as a matriarch whose adult children clean out her apartment unaware that she has hidden her life savings in it. The search that follows is entertaining and enjoyable if not terribly memorable.

May in the Summer (recommended): This was the very first film I saw at the Sundance Film Festival back in 2013. Cherien Dabis impresses as writer, director, producer, and star of this entertaining and involving story about a Jordanian-American bride struggling culturally and personally to plan her wedding in her home country.

Rosewater (recommended): Jon Stewart’s directorial debut isn’t something you might expect from him, but it does dramatically spotlight the story of one journalist imprisoned in Iran. Its story and star Gael Garcia Bernal are its strongest assets.

White Bird in a Blizzard (recommended): Shailene Woodley is the real reason to see this occasionally fascinating, sometimes too peculiar film that has an interesting central premise but gets distracted when it heads in a less worthwhile overarching direction.

Winter in the Blood (recommended): This eccentric Native American story straddles the line between reality and imagination as its main character searches for tranquility and satisfaction with the help of scene stealer David Morse’s memorable Airplane Man.

Now on Netflix Instant Streaming

Days and Nights (mixed bag): Christian Camargo, who played Rudy in season one of “Dexter,” steps behind the camera to write and direct his first film, this initially intriguing look at a miserable family dynamic one Memorial Day Weekend. The cast seems impressive, but the film is hardly a home run. Also available on DVD.

Enquiring Minds: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer (recommended): This documentary, which played at DOC NYC, is an involving and eye-opening chronicle of the origins of the National Enquirer, one of the most reviled publications in journalistic history that has a more complicated past than you might expect that is just as salacious as many of its stories are.

Gloria (recommended): Star Paulina Garcia is hands-down the best part about this past Chilean Oscar submission for Best Foreign Film. She delivers a dedicated, honest, humorous performance in a film that’s often as entertaining as she is but not consistently so.

Joe (highly recommended): Nicolas Cage is better than he’s been in a decade as the title character in this dark and involving story, which also features a superb performance from Tye Sheridan, one of the breakout stars of “Mud,” and strong filmmaking all around.

Lilting (recommended): This British film from director Hong Khaou is an emotional exploration of loss featuring strong performances from Ben Wishaw, Cheng Pei Pei, Naomi Christie, and Peter Bowles that has its especially impactful moments.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman (highly recommended): I know I’m in the minority, but I absolutely loved this animated feature which stars Ty Burrell as the omnisciently talented Mr. Peabody, who has to contend with a troublesome yet sweet adopted son and all of the time-travel-involved hijinks he manages to get himself into. Great fun for the whole family!

Young Ones (highly recommended): Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Elle Fanning are all great in this intriguing dystopian tale from Sundance that feels like both a western and a sci-fi film.